Most of can’t do any of this. What kind of freedom is that? Who has put these shackles on us to inhibit our options and possibilities? Who is impeding our ability to squeeze the most out of life?
We are not truly free because we have chosen to believe that we need certain things to be happy. We let peer pressure persuade us that we will not enjoy life unless we have a certain standard of living. As a result, we kill ourselves chasing after these goals, hoping that they will make us happy. We waste our lives running after things that will supposedly make our lives better while we wonder why we feel so empty even after we get them. In our rush to keep up with the Joneses, we don’t stop and realize that the Joneses aren’t that happy.
Are you climbing up too fast?
Here is a quick quiz to help you gauge how well you’re following the Second Principle:
1. If all your income sources stopped today, how many months could you survive before you had to cut back your standard of living?
2. On a scale of 1-10, at what pace do you adopt new technology? (1 = “I get technology before NASA does!” and 10 = “I just bought a telephone!”)
3. If you got a raise today, how much of it would you save vs. spend? (Rate it on a 1-10 scale where 1 = “spend it all” and 10 =“save it all”)
4. On a 1-10 scale, how much do you worry about making ends meet? (1 = “It’s hard to sleep at night” and 10 = “zzzzz”)
5. On a 1-10 scale, how financially secure do you feel? (1 = “Bankruptcy courts know me well” and 10 = “I bathe in money”)
Scoring: If you scored less than 36, you'll want to read Chapter 2 of Hike Your Own Hike.
The trap of raising your standard of living
Do you remember the last time you raised your standard of living? Could you imagine going back to how you lived before? When you upgrade your standard of living, you become addicted to that standard of living.
For instance, could you imagine living like you did when you were in your early 20s? You were probably crammed in a college dorm or shacked up with three roommates in a small house, or dealing with your nagging parents. For those of us who have moved on to more comfortable situations, it’s hard to imagine going back to that way of life. Most would rather endure weeks of Chinese water torture than return to our former standard of living.
Yet paradoxically many people fondly remember their early 20s as some of the happiest moments of their lives. Sure, you were cramped in a dorm, but you were enjoying life to the fullest. Sleeping in bunk beds in a New York City apartment was a minor annoyance compared to the joy you had during that period. Even putting up with your pestering parents was worth the good times you had. OK, never mind that last one.
The point is that even though we lived more humbly than we do now, we were just as happy and perhaps more happy than today. This reminds us of the First Principle: happiness comes from within. However, few would be willing to return to that way of life and put up with those “meager living conditions” again. There is nothing wrong with feeling that way, it is a normal part of human nature—once we upgrade we never want to go back. Although we theoretically can go back, the pain and discomfort are monumental. In essence, whenever we upgrade we pass a point of no return. Therefore, it’s vital to carefully think through each upgrade, lest we risk either diminished freedom or increased anguish. So the challenge is knowing when to upgrade. To know that, you need to know the 4 steps of developing good spending and savings habits.
This is a modified excerpt from Chapter 2 of Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. You can read the whole first chapter for free. Or you can buy the book at my shop, Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, and Google Books. (The best deal is at my shop). It’s also available as an audiobook.